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Battling the Tiger: Combating corruption in the Sino-world

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After the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a new round of anti-corruption campaign has been going on. With almost fifty provincial officials, more than 600 director-level officials and more than 200,000 petty officials snared, this campaign is being conducted in a harsh way on a large scale.

More importantly, as Vice Primer WANG Qishan pointed out, the ultimate goal is to reach the “would not think of it”stage from the current “would not dare”stage. In order to realise this goal, the passive control and surveillance measurements which have been carried on over decades may not be able to meet the demand. What should be prior taken into consideration is institutional designs for a clean government.

If we look for a successful example for China on anti-corruption reform, Hong Kong may be a good one. During the 1960s, with the increasing population and the rapid expansion of manufacturing industry, Hong Kong was faced with a similar situation which corruption was wide-spread around the force and the community in mainland China nowadays. (Manion, 2004)And yet since 1974 when the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was created, the anti-corruption interventions has empowered to accomplish the transformation. This commission, according to the Basic Law, functions independently and is directly accountable to the Chief Executive. (Scott, 2011

So the paper is conducted by analysis on causes of corruption and anti-corruption measurements in mainland China, followed by the evaluation and comparison of Hong Kong and mainland China. Though sharing a Chinese culture, great difference remains between each other. Especially when we focus on the anti-corruption achievement, Hong Kong, considered as the freer market from government intervention, has incredible achievements in combatting institutionalised corruption while China, during two decades of anti-corruption campaign, remains one of the most corrupt countries.

This paper considers the rooted causes and problems of the anti-corruption strategy in mainland China. By introducing the incidence of Chen Xitong and the general situation on state personnel corruption, it argues extent, forms and characteristics and the institutional loopholes of Chinese government. Meanwhile, the process of the transformation in Hong Kong will be illustrated empirically and compared with the process in mainland China. The key part——ICAC will be evaluated. And the suggestions of establishing such commission in mainland China will be introduced and tested. The main researching method is new institutionalism by focusing on the institutional design and informal practice in mainland China.

The definition of corruption

Corruption, simply speaking, means the abuse of power for illegal monetary transaction. One of the most comprehensive definitions that by a short simply wording incudes both a public and private sector corruption comes from a Vienna-based prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic: “Seemingly victimless, hidden trade-off between influence and gain” (Bajrektarevic, Palermo Treaty system, Addleton NY, 2011). The World Bank defines (public) corruption as the abuse of public office for private gains. However, when it comes to a definition in concrete terms which contain too much connotation.(Girling, 1997) In addition, the causes and the results of public-private sector corruption are diverse. It can be traced in governments and civil societies, which include economic systems, administrative systems, judiciary systems and so on. (Harris, 2003) No matter how broad and complicated the concept is, it can reflect rules and violators who against those rules can be identified and punished. (Gambetta, 1999)

In the Chinese context, there are two major definitions that can be applied to China in the transition period. For those who are in favor of a tough enforcement and party disciplinary, they would like to provide a more broad-based definition which includes public offices, public interest and public opinions factors. By contrast, for those who are in favor of an effective effacement and market efficiency, they would focus on the abuse of public office. (Sun, 2004) Though there is no formalistic answer to the question on what the definition is, this paper would use a definition corresponding with the Chinese context. The corruption is defined as the abuse of authority or the public power by occupants in the government or the party to gain private interests. This interpretation narrows down to the public office level that focuses on the abuse of public power in the political activities.

Corruption in Mainland China

The process of corruption in China after 1949 can be roughly divided into two periods. There is the classical communist period from 1949 to 1976 and the socialist market from 1976 to the present. (Harris, 2003)

From 1980 on, the development of corruption took place together with the legitimating of financial pursuit, delegation of power to an individual or an agency, fast expansion of the market economy, deficiency of the Party’s discipline as well as delaying in introducing regulatory control and required on time legislative renewal. (Kwong, 1997)

One case disclosure shocked the public. That is that the mayor of Beijing——Chen Xitong was found directly engaging in bribe taking, with numerous bribe givers and huge material rewards. Even for Chen Xitong, whose downfall is often interpreted as political, the size of his booty warranted his fate. Two private villas, where Chen spent his leisure time and kept his mistresses between January 1993 and February 1995, cost the public nearly Y40 million in maintenance fees, and Y1.05 million in catering expenses. According to Sun (2004), “The villas were filled with luxuries ranging from gold doors and agate floors to extensive maintenance and security. Eventually, he was sentenced to 16-year jail term. ”(p. 148).

In Alan Liu’s categories, the forms of corruption in mainland China can be roughly divided into three groups. The first one is universal in all political systems including bribery, embezzlement and abuse. The state property is still a main target but not the only one. Instead, it is the greater inducement from and dependence on the market that now defines the forms and methods of violation. The second type is related to the economic reform, such as accounting violation and privilege seeking. When decentralisation was carried on gradually, autonomy and increasing resources have facilitated corruption dynamically. Precisely, there is linkage between economic liberalisation and corruption. Third one is resulted from moral degradation in a broad way. Sun (2004) states that “even here the marketplace has stimulated distinctive forms of moral deviation in recent years.”(p. 51).

Causes of corruption in China

The growth of corruption is considered as a policy outcome.(Gong, 1997)It results from mainly the economic reform in an unconscious way during the reforming and opening period. In general, economic reform which is for market development and economic growth, has built up the advantageous condition for the explosion of corruption. Increasing business opportunities, the looser economic policies and the higher payoffs motivated officials to get involved in corruption.

To break through the planned economy which made the economy in China stall market economy was introduced to China 30 years ago. Wedeman (2012) states “this reform help China accomplish an economic miracle,” which also makes China lie on the top in the international community. As the continuous development of market economy and reform and opening going deeper, corruption has come out as an ineluctable social phenomenon.

During the reform of economy, market competition is one of the most important factors which cannot be underestimated. When analysing the relationship between market economy and corruption, both western and Chinese scholars found out the paradox. There is a negative correlation between economic growth and corruption. Firstly Paolo Mauro, followed by other economists, found that the higher the rate of corruption is, the lower the rate of development is. Empirically, they drew out a conclusion that when the rate of corruption increases one point, it results in the reduction of one percent in economic growth. Theoretically, this statement also can be correct because equality and justice are the key factors of market competition. However, this kind of developmental corruption model cannot successfully reflect the facts in Mainland China where we can see the increasing corruption rate together with the fast development of market and economic growth. Some severe realities are quite obvious. The number of officials corrupting keeps increasing. The involvement in business field of governmental officials is enlarged. Corruption, originally a concealed individual behaviour, is turning into an organised collusion such as Shanghai Gang. (Gong, 1997)

As I mention before, there is a paradox about the relationship between market economic growth and corruption. Admittedly, corruption keeps developing in Mainland China together with the rapid growth economy. Gong Ting (1997) uses a conceptual framework which is the interactions of formal and informal practice from new institutionalism to give the explanation. She believes that corruption, as an informal practice, is actually a production of formal practice with loophole. They are interactional to some extent. To stamp out corruption, the starting stage should be on the amendment towards formal practice such as legal framework, judicial system and institutional design.

As for the judicial system, she also points out that the wide spread of corruption is facilitated by the way the courts are organized and supervised. The courts, in mainland China, are not different from other governmental agencies. They are not independent. The local government decides the finances of the courts. Senior judges are nominated by the local CPC Committee and endorsed by the local People’s Congress, meaning judges whose decisions are seen to violate Party policy may be discharged or otherwise punished. The courts are subject to the extra-legal authority of the Political-Legal Secretary of the local Party Committee, which deals with difficult and important cases referred to it. (Manion, 2004)

Anti-corruption strategy in Hong Kong

What makes Hong Kong’s economy successful? Several points below are worthy being remarked such as low tax collection, freedom in market competition, a relatively efficient legal system, an efficient and effective network on transportation and communication and “a competent workforce working along with a pool of enterprising entrepreneurs”described by Howlett (1997, p.47) (as cited in Manion, 2004). Those factors not only significantly contribute to the economic development in Hong Kong but also enable Hong Kong’s economic wealth which does good to combatting corruption as the government can afford the salaries of civil servants and enough human and financial resources can be committed. (Quah, 2003)

Different from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (Zhongjiwei), the ICAC operates independently in terms of structure, power, finance and personnel. Before 1997, there was a direct access between its Commissioner and the Governor. After July 1997, the ICAC is directly responsible to the Chief Executive. So far, the ICAC has developed into three major functions which are investigation, prevention and education to fight against corruption in Hong Kong. (Scott, 2011)

The Structure of the ICAC

As for its structure, there are main three unequal branches and the Administration Branch. Among the three departments, the largest one which is the Operation Department takes the responsibility of the investigative function. The over nine hundred employees takes up 73% of the ICAC human resource. The head of the Department also serves as the Deputy Commissioner, assisted by two Directors who are in charge of the government sector and the private sector respectively. The second largest one is the Community Relations Department. The two divisions of this Department are mass media and the public. It has 202 staff which is 16% of the total staff in the ICAC. Intensive education projects are conducted in schools and business sectors. In addition, it also builds up a close relationship between mass media and district organisations in order to raise the public awareness and gain their support towards the anti-corruption movement. The smallest department is the Corruption Prevention Department (CPD), taking up 4% of the total employees in the ICAC. In concrete terms, the objectives of the CPD is to inspect the practice and procedures of government and public bodies. Also, it takes the responsibility of making amendments and suggestions on the working methods. Training for civil servants is also offered by the CPD for the purpose of prevention. Apart from these three departments, there is a separated administration department. It is in charge of human and financial resources and general matters such as accommodation and technologic service. Besides, an advisory committee is to examine the work of each department.

The ICAC also has its own recruitment practice. The employees are recruited out of the control of the Public Service Commission, which makes the staff of the ICAC separate from other governmental sections. During the recruitment process, the ICAC itself takes the whole responsibility of promotion, screening, interviewing and other process. As for the financial fund of it, by the 2001/2002 financial year, its budget has reach 81 times compared from the first year when it was established. This rapid increasing in budget reflects the strong will of the government on the support of the ICAC anti-corruption enforcement. (Quah, 2003)

Comparison on Anti-corruption Strategy in Mainland China and Hong Kong

Institutional Designs

The main difference in mainland China and Hong Kong is the anti-corruption agencies. In Hong Kong, the ICAC is an independent agency with power and increasing budget. More importantly, the Commissioner of the ICAC is directly answerable to the Chief Executive, which makes the ICAC a separated agency apart from other governmental departments. (Harris, 2003) However, in mainland China, unclear boundary exists between the party and government branch. Junctional jurisdictions are dominated by communist party committee generalists at each level. The second point is the institutional design. In Hong Kong, one of the three important methods of anti-corruption is the prevention through institutional design is; in mainland China, certain economic reform policies actually stimulate corruption. Reorganisation of procedures to reduce incentives for corrupt transaction has been shown recently. Finally, the analysis will go back to the basic ground of anti-corruption strategy which is the constitutional design. This essential difference lies in the two different regimes. Hong Kong has a functioning rule of law regime and effective civil liberty while mainland China is conducted by a rule of law regime less constructively and neglect of civil liberty. (Manion, 2004)

Hong Kong’s institutional design not only focus on the enforcement measures but also pays high attention to the prevention by offering suggestion. The ICAC’s Corruption Prevention Department is to study the work procedures in governmental departments to identify opportunities for corruption. (Manion, 2004) Having studied and analysed, suggestions would be offered so as to reduce the possibility of corruption by redesigning the working procedures. Further, after the suggestions are given, the Department is still in charge of checking the effectiveness of the suggestions, making sure the new design would not offer ground for new chances for corruption. The function as consultant is one of the key and unique notion of this department, especially when the government is on its way to draft and amend legislative text and policies. To a great extent, this function makes sure the anti-corruption movement starts from the beginning level where new laws are introduced for an incentive purpose.

Also in mainland China recently, more attention has been paid towards designing incentive structures from the original forcemeat stage. In Anhui province in 2000, the “taxed for fees” reform was adopted from the perspective of being incentive. The reform is to reduced possibility of corruption in the township governments and villages by reforming the basic collection system. It replaces a single agricultural tax, capped at about 7 percent of income and collected by higher level governments, for various fees and charges levied by township and village administrations. Compared with the previous regulations against illegal fees in 1990s, Manion (2004) described that “the reform frees officials at the rural grassroots level from fee collection and makes corruption at the township and village more difficult.”(p. 205) In 2003, this reform was successfully adopted nationwide, becoming a good example in mainland China of transforming to the incentive structure.

According to policy analysts, the key part of institutional design in Hong Kong is the independence of the ICAC and it is what mainland China should emulate when reforming the anti-corruption strategy. This refer to the exclusive anti-corruption mission of the agency: “The ICAC is not embedded in the civil service or any other larger organisation with multiple goals”. Among this, the most important is the police force remaining independent, especially in the 1973 context of a public perception of that department as the most corrupt of all. Agency independent worked in Hong Kong primarily because this agency design worked as a signal, a public announcement of an “equilibrium switch”——but it worked especially well in a particular context. With corruption structured this way, the creation of an agency that effectively rejected the police as anti-corruption agents helped legitimate the government effort and enlisted ordinary citizens as voluntary enforcers. Independent was complemented by power, also an element of agency design: the ICAC was given strong investigate powers and considerable financial resources.

Legal Framework

Difference also lies in the law set in Hong Kong and mainland China. The reasons behind it are partly contributed by the different policy choices which illustrate different experience and views. From a perspective of a higher degree, however, basic difference on constraints of power should be noticed.

A solid legal foundation has become the base of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption reform. Two important legislative context have to be introduced. The Prevention of Bribery Ordinance was strengthened in 1971. It provided with a clear definition by including “unexplained income or property”which can serve as the evidence of corruption practices. Clarity, stability, scope and whether it is easy for application, all the points above greatly influence on whether and how a corrupt official can be punished according to law. (Quah, 2003)

To build up a clear legal basis, several points should be well defined. Legal clarity, breadth, stability, and ease of application all contributed to a situation where corrupt officials were routinely punished according to law. And the public confidence of the anti-corruption enforcement is also, to some extent, basing on whether the law is harsh without loopholes.

On the contrary, in mainland China, the main force on combatting corruption is centralised by the CDIC which plays as a leading and administrative role. But as for the legal system itself, it remains weak.

What depletes the development of law and a legal-based authority in mainland China? One point should be noticed that under the leading of the CDIC, the investigation and punishment are conducted within the party system. This makes lag when a criminal case is transferring into the prosecution process. So the agency design which makes anti-corruption enforcement outside the criminal procuratorates system may be one of answers to the question above. (Gong, 2004) Besides, the law making process is also not propitious. The first criminal code was passed in 1979. Then comes rapid changes on political economy which forced law makers refine the law with taking lots of new factors into consideration. The role of law and its distinction between party leadership shows a fundamental contradiction in mainland China. The law should serve as a powerful tool to fight against the abuse of official power. (Manion, 2004)

Conclusion

China’s path of corruption is actually quite similar to the process in Hong Kong, rapid growth in population and economic transition. By viewing Hong Kong as a good example of mainland China, we can find basically one main loophole which is the ambiguity of power between the party and judiciary from both legal and institutional prospective. If mainland China are going to set up an independent agency like ICAC in Hong Kong, a clear boundary must be well-defined. First of all, as for the institutional setting, it is to avoid the interference from the government and the party in order to ensure authority and transparency of this agency. Second, it is to reduce delay when a corruption crime transferred from the investigation of the party to the prosecutors. Further, even though the “fight against tigers”movement achieve success for the current situation, refining the present legal framework still remains the determinant.

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Chinese Game: U.S. Losing Asia and Africa

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As the US sanction pressure on Russia intensifies, the US economic and political competition with their most important economic partner, China, is noticeably getting more fierce. Simultaneously, Washington has been exchanging direct and indirect economic strikes with Turkey and the EU. (In the case of the European Union, an exchange of blows occurs in connection with Washington’s threat to punish European companies that are set to ignore the US ban on cooperation with Iran.)

Two Lines of Confrontation

The aggravation of the US-Chinese rivalry proceeds along two lines: first, the rates in the “tariff war” between the two countries are rising; second, the struggle between Washington and Beijing for lucrative markets in Asia and Africa is intensifying. Both these processes are interrelated, but in the current circumstances the main focus of the second line  is the fight for markets.

In the first place, I would like to talk briefly about the “tariff war” between the US and China as an important element in relations between the two countries, without which it is impossible to understand all the subtleties of competition between these two countries in Asia and Africa. As is known, the “tariff war” worsened after the US president first introduced a 25-percent duty on the import of 818 products from China, the total value of which was estimated at 34 billion dollars a year. Then came the even more threatening statement of the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “On July 18, the President instructed me to compile the list of Chinese goods worth 200 billion dollars for imposing additional duties of 10 percent … The President ordered me to consider an increase in the proposed level from 10 to 25 percent “. After China responded with a 25-percent duty on 34 billion dollars’ worth of American goods, Trump did not rule out the possibility of raising duties on all Chinese imports in the US. The total value of Chinese commodities in the US is currently estimated at about $ 500 billion.

Simultaneously, the United States has loudly announced its intention to compete with China in influencing countries that participate in the Chinese transport project “One Belt, One Road”, which is designed to revive the Great Silk Road, which ran throughout the whole of Eurasia in the Middle Ages. As he set off for  the Regional Cooperation Forum in Singapore in July this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his intention to counteract China’s so-called “silk” influence. According to Pompeo’s plans, the appropriate measures should cost the US budget a trifling $ 113 million against China’s hundreds of billions which is exactly the amount Beijing is planning to allocate for the implementation of “One Belt, One Road” project.

Influence at Low Cost

If the United States intends to squeeze China out of Asia at such miniscule costs, they obviously underestimate the rival. At least two factors work for Beijing: first of all, China is one of the region’s oldest “aborigines”; besides, Washington, waging a “tariff” war against Beijing, can thus deprive itself of a part of the Chinese oil market, making China even more attractive for oil traders from Iran and Russia – the key players in the project “One Belt, One Road”.

The American Oil Price news site has described the impact of the US-China “tariff war” on the Asian oil players as follows: “China has threatened to impose a 25- percent import tariff on crude oil and oil products from the United States. If this threat comes into effect, crude oil from the US can become non-competitive in terms of value. Such a tariff from China will not only reduce the income of oil exporters from the US, forcing them to look for new markets … it can become a source of additional revenues for the OPEC countries. And the OPEC countries are the suppliers that the US has pushed into the background in recent years”, says Oil Price researcher Irina Slav. oilprice.com

Considering that for the American oil industry China is the largest export market after Canada, it becomes clear that this matter is fraught with so huge losses, billions in fact, that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with his 113 million dollars sounds ridiculous.

Psychological Error

Judging by Pompeo’s statements, Americans are committing a psychological mistake in Asia. This is the mistake that led to China pushing the US to the sidelines in many countries of Africa. The matter is that the US is trying to replace genuine assistance by self-praise, flaunting any of its measures as valuable and corruption-free, alleging that whatever it does is a good example to follow. “The world knows that with American companies you get what you see. Honest contracts, honest conditions, there is no need for behind-the-scenes machinations. Decency in business is the pillar of our economic vision in the Indo-Pacific Region”, the Secretary of State told CNN.

Meanwhile, South-East Asian nations know only too well about the US policy in this region. Alas, it is simply impossible to describe this policy as ever humanistic, open and devoid of corruption – it would mean contradicting the historical truth. The brutal war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the support of the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (1965-1986), the “secret wars” of the CIA in Laos and Cambodia during military operations in Vietnam – the memory of all these is still fresh in the region. All the countries affected (Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia) are members of ASEAN. In such circumstances, the self-praising speeches by American officials at ASEAN forums trigger a skeptical attitude, to say the least. And although many ASEAN countries may feel wary of China and are unlikely to have cloudless relations with Beijing in the near future, the US’ psychologically wrong tactics have already antagonized many of these states pushing them toward Russia and China. This is proved by the recent attempts by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to diversify the traditionally pro-American policy of his country, enlisting the support of Russia and even China, a long-term rival. Duterte’s historic visit to China in 2016 showed who had actually won the fight for the “heart and mind” of the Philippine leader – a struggle in which the United States initially had very strong positions. aljazeera.com

The anti-Duterte media campaign, which was launched in the US and the EU soon afterwards, has no direct consequences so far. American accusations against Duterte in connection with an excessively fierce fight against the drug mafia sounded hypocritical amid the “war on drugs” which was imposed by the United States on Mexico and Colombia in the 2000s and in which at least 45,000 people were killed.

Lost In Asia – Will Lose In Africa

As far as Africa is concerned, in recent years China has outplayed not only the Americans, but the seemingly familiar with the local specifics former colonial masters of this region – the French and the British.

After the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese side found the right approach to its African partners – without instruction, without interference in internal affairs, with investment proposals supported by the banking sector of the Middle Kingdom. The first ministerial meeting of FOCAC attracted representatives of 44 countries from 53 states of the African continent. Fairly soon, China made these forums pan-African by removing Taiwan. Until the middle of the 2000s Taiwan had its diplomatic missions in several African countries (including Chad and Senegal), which excluded the possibility of communication between these countries and the PRC.

Orientation – Bandung

The African-Chinese “union of values” began with the Bandung Conference of 1955, during which 29 countries of Asia and Africa proclaimed the principles of non-interference, respect for each other’s sovereignty and comprehensive economic cooperation. The figures of the Indian Jewaharlal Nehru, the Egyptian Gamal-Abdel Nasser and the Chinese Zhou Enlai, which live in the memory of many in connection with their participation in the Bandung Conference, have ‘sanctified’ a new approach to China’s cooperation with Africa. All three became heroes in their countries, and the Chinese leadership, headed by the then Secretary-General Hu Jintao, was not mistaken in the choice of a model: in the coming years China will most likely gain an economic foothold in Angola, South Africa and the Congo-Brazzaville state. According to the long-term president of this country Denis Sassou Nguesso, “Africans for the first time do not expect foul play from people with a different skin color who build their roads and power lines.” (Source: the book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 23)

At present, Africa’s trade with China amounts to 220 billion dollars, with the US – 37 billion. Foreign direct investment from China to African countries is estimated at $ 50 billion, although many experts claim that the real figure is higher: too much infrastructure, new plants and modern services have appeared in Africa for such “modest” Chinese money. (Source: book by French journalists Serge Michel, Michel Beuret “Cinafrica, Pechino qalla conquista del continente nero” – “Beijing in the process of conquering the black continent.” Milano, 2009, p. 22).

It should be noted that Africa did its best to repay all their benefactors with loyalty: together with China, leaders of the African Union reacted negatively to the armed, violent overthrow of the leader of the African Union – Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. China knows that it can count on the majority of African votes in the UN. But the main thing is gratitude, which in the case of Africa-China relations is absolutely sincere.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Uyghur militant threat: China cracks down and mulls policy changes

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China, responding to United Nations criticism, academic and media reports, and an embarrassing court case in Kazakhstan, has come closer to admitting that it has brutally cracked down on the strategic north-western province of Xinjiang in what it asserts is a bid to prevent the kind of mayhem that has wracked countries like Syria and Libya.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times charged in its Chinese and English editions that the criticism and reports were aimed at stirring trouble and destroying hard-earned stability in Xinjiang, China’s gateway to Central Asia and home to its Turkic Uyghur and ethnic minority Central Asian Muslim communities.

The crackdown, involving introduction of the world’s most intrusive surveillance state and the indefinite internment of large numbers of Muslims in re-education camps, is designed to quell potential Uyghur nationalist and religious sentiment and prevent blowback from militants moving to Central Asia’s borders with China after the Islamic State and other jihadist groups lost most of their territorial base in Iraq and Syria.

Concern that national and religious sentiment and/or militancy could challenge China’s grip on Xinjiang, home to 15  percent of its proven oil reserves, 22  per cent of its gas reserves, and 115 of the 147 raw materials found in the People’s Republic as well as part of its nuclear arsenal, has prompted Beijing to consider a more interventionist policy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia in contradiction to its principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.

The Global Times asserted that the security situation in Xinjiang had been “turned around and terror threats spreading from there to other provinces of China are also being eliminated. Peaceful and stable life has been witnessed again in all of Xinjiang… Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya,’” the paper said.

Five Chinese mining engineers were wounded last week in a suicide attack in the troubled Pakistan province of Balochistan, a key node in the US$ 50 billion plus China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) intended to link the strategic port of Gwadar with Xinjiang and fuel economic development in the Chinese region. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) rather than Uyghurs.

The Global Times admitted that the Chinese effort to ensure security had “come at a price that is being shouldered by people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”

China has not acknowledged the existence of re-education camps but the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said last week that it had credible reports that one million Uyghurs, were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The UN assertion of the existence of the camps is corroborated by academic research and media reports based on interviews with former camp inmates and relatives of prisoners, testimony to a US Congressional committee, and recent testimony in a Kazakh court by a former employee in one of the camps.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

Stymying the international criticism and demands for action before they gain further momentum is imperative if China wants to ensure that the Muslim world continues to remain silent about what amounts to a Chinese effort, partly through indoctrination in its re-education camps, to encourage the emergence of what it would call an Islam with Chinese characteristics. China is pushing other faiths to adopt a similar approach.

Concern that Uighur militants exiting Syria and Iraq will again target Xinjiang is likely one reason why Chinese officials suggested that despite their adherence to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others China might join the Syrian army in taking on militants in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

Syrian forces have bombarded Idlib, a dumping ground for militants evacuated from other parts of the country captured by the Syrian military and the country’s last major rebel stronghold, in advance of an expected offensive.

Speaking to Syrian pro-government daily Al-Watan, China’s ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, said that China was ‘following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern (Syria), and its military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”

Chinese participation in a campaign in Idlib would be China’s first major engagement in foreign battle in decades.

China has similarly sought to mediate a reduction of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to get them to cooperate in the fight against militants and ensure that Uyghur jihadists are denied the ability to operate on China’s borders. It has also sought to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Chinese officials told a recent gathering in Beijing of the Afghan-Pakistan-China Trilateral Counter-Terrorism dialogue that militant cross-border mobility represented a major threat that needed to be countered by an integrated regional approach.

Potentially, there’s a significant economic upside to facilitating regional cooperation in South Asia and military intervention in Syria. Post-conflict, both countries offer enormous reconstruction opportunities.

Said Middle East scholar Randa Slim discussing possible Chinese involvement in the clearing of Idlib: “You have to think about this in terms of the larger negotiations over Chinese assistance to reconstruction. Syria doesn’t have the money, Russia doesn’t have the money. China has a stake in the fighting.” It also has the money.

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Sino-American Strategic Rivalry

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From a strategy point of view, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are similar in least in one respect: Sun Tzu’s idea of moving swiftly to overcome resistance is similar to the one endorsed by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon.

The modern day example can be traced to the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign by the U.S. in Iraq and the Iraqi reliance on a strategy similar to Russian defense against Napoleon’s attack in his Russian Campaign of 1812. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end of his ambition. He won many battles but lost the war.

And America is suffering from the same fate as the struggle for a new Iraqi political identity is not going to go the American way. The same can be said about Afghanistan.

This is precisely why discussions on war must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view as Clausewitz has noted that “war is an extension of politics”. And the reverse is also true, one may add.

A quick tour of modern history reveals the true winners and losers of wars, by comparing a country’s power before and after a war. The United Kingdom and Germany were both losers of the two World Wars. And the difference of losses between them is a matter of degree.

But the U.K. suffered greater and irreversible losses than Germany.  The British ceded its number one geopolitical leadership position in the world to the United States. But Germany has been able to regain its position as Europe’s great economic and political power, while the prospects of the U.K. taking back the world leadership position from the U.S. are next to none.

America has been a geopolitical winner overall since the two World Wars. But its power has been in relative decline. It has failed to advance its power after the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and most recently Syria. It has failed so far to advance the momentum created by the Arab Spring as it has since become the Arab Winter, or to make much headway in Latin America, in Ukraine, and in Africa.

America’s key failures in the past decade are failures in being able to offer tangible economic benefits to target countries while expanding its military involvements. The country can win military battles because of its overwhelming fire power but has not been successful in its after-war “nation building” efforts.

Despite China’s numerous shortcomings, many developing countries quietly wish they could become a mini-China economically. They want to live better with more consumption but they probably want to do it by being able to build up their country’s infrastructure and an industrial base.

America’s recent announcement that it will invest $113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in the Indo-Pacific as part of a new strategy to deepen ties with the region has received jaw-dropping reception – sarcastically speaking.

As an example, a survey of North American light rail projects shows that costs of most LRT systems range from $15 million to over $100 million per mile. So how far $113 million or even $1.13 billion can go even if one is to factor in some discounts if projects are implemented in lower cost Indo-Pacific countries? Remember, $113 million is for countries as in plural!

This pales in comparison to China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) that ranges between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. BRI is not without its problems and critics. Concerns have been raised about increases in some participating countries’ level of national debt as a result of massive infrastructure building. But because of the scale of the initiative, even if it could only succeed at the lowest end of the range, would offer some real and substantial benefits to countries that can benefit from it.

While freedom and democracy are ideals that have universal support in the abstract – the key words here are “in the abstract” – successful nation-building efforts are realized in the nitty-gritty of people’s everyday economic well-being. This is particularly true among developing countries.

Cheap Chinese smart phones have enabled Africans to get market information to transact with one another more beneficially, to acquire news and information, to lower transaction costs through mobile payments. Inexpensive Chinese motor bikes have become life-saving vehicles for rural populations carrying goods to markets as well as the sick to clinics or hospitals many miles away that they previously could not do.

While the U.S. is no doubt keen on promoting democracy, it is the Chinese that provide affordable smart phones to the masses that allow the spread of information.

While some of the best and the brightest, the elites, the upper middle class in developing countries may desire to have an opportunity to earn an Ivey League degree, to emigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities, to acquire an American passport as an insurance policy, it’s the Chinese that are doing the grunt work of building and training local personnel to conduct trains, to train electrical power linemen to install and repair of overhead or underground power lines as well as to maintain and repair of other electrical and hydro-electrical subsystems and components.

Regardless of how one’s view of China’s strategic intents in its international involvements, the strategies between the U.S. and China cannot be more different. China builds and America destroys.

But many countries especially in the Indo-Pacific region are taking advantage of the rivalry between these two powers to extract the best deals for themselves and you can’t blame them. Economically they want to cooperate with China but militarily they want to get a free ride from the U.S. and the U.S. does not mind that as long as it falls within America’s China Containment strategy.

And time will tell which strategy will work better – economic cooperation or military encirclement?

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